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In March, the Jameson Dublin Intl. Film Festival attracted a huge crowd — 20,000 admissions. Organizers were understandably ecstatic, they had put together the festival in little more than three months.

Ireland’s capital has had a film fest before: Launched in 1985, the Dublin Film Festival foundered in the 1990s, eventually going bankrupt; in 2002, there was no festival. It had lost touch, insiders maintain, with the ticket-buying audience.

This time, the forces behind the fest propose to do things a bit differently. “We saw the opportunity to develop a public fest for the public. We’re continually focused on presenting cinema to the public,” says fest CEO Rory Concannon.

The organizers passionately believe in an Irish thirst for films — “We love a good yarn (and) cinema is just storytelling; it’s part of our genetic makeup,” notes Concannon.

The event looks pretty healthy — as organizers have added two more days to the 2004 edition, skedded for Feb. 19-29.

Ireland’s censorship laws also have helped the festival’s managers. “We can’t actually show films to the public,” says Concannon, as the films have not been rated by the country’s censor board. So the film festival is a club. When a ticket is bought, the buyer must join the club (“We charge a few euros and they get a fest catalog,” says Concannon) and receive a membership badge (“People like it; it creates a vibe in the local bars and pubs”). Plus, the fest gets an instant database that can be tapped for subsequent events.

The censor laws also mean that only people over 18 can “join” the club, which means that marketing savvy liquor companies, like Dublin’s titular sponsor Jameson Whiskey, can dive in with cash.

Concannon says that this year, Dublin will launch a direct marketing campaign, and has teamed with London-based Mobile Aware to upload a network zapping directly into mobile phones. Festgoers can have film skeds sent via text messaging, then buy tickets by hitting the “send” button on their cell phone. “It just makes it more accessible to the public.”

The idea for a new fest was proposed by Irish Times film writer-critic Michael Dwyer and producer David McLoughlin, who were involved in the first Dublin event. After all, a fest in the city is a no-brainer: Dublin has the highest cinema attendance per capita of any country in Europe.

Dwyer wrote about a new fest in the Irish Times; once the idea was out there, it was an unstoppable force, even on such short notice. “The biggest problem we faced was that we had only three months to put it together. We were very lucky. We had a superb team: When Michael wrote about it, CVs came in so we had the pick of all these fantastic people,” says Concannon.

They raised S400,000 ($452,000), about 94% from private funds.

Organizers also were able to nail down a deliberately eclectic slate: from weighty Hollywood fare like “The Life of David Gale,” “Frida” and “25th Hour” to arthouse and fest circuit faves such as “Whale Rider,” “Russian Ark” and “Chihwaseon” to local debuts.

Plus, Dublin was able to bring in local hottie Colin Farrell with “Phone Booth” and “The Recruit,” Dublin-based helmer Jim Sheridan with “In America,” Rebecca Miller with “Personal Velocity” and other filmmakers and writers.

How did a debut fest attract such names? “Dublin is a cool place. There’s so much cinema, theater. … People love going out, there’s a lot of fun going on here. We basically said, ‘You should come along, we’ll show your movie, we’ll have a few pints — or whiskeys — afterwards,’ ” says Concannon.

He credits Dwyer with nabbing attendees, and notes that Sheridan “was a great help. He gave us lots of support, made a lot of calls to people.”

With the Irish film industry still looking healthy although the local tax incentive is up for government review this year, “doors are opening quicker because of the exposure we got last year,” says Concannon. “I want to focus on growing the audience. With a big audience, the talent will come.”